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Tomás Ojea Quintana, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 13, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council has brought North Korea another step closer to accountability for human rights crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. A resolution, passed without a vote on March 24, 2017, strengthens the UN’s work to assess and develop strategies to prosecute grave violations in North Korea.

The resolution provides for strengthening the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Seoul by including international criminal justice experts. The experts will be able to develop plans for the eventual prosecution of North Korean leaders and officials responsible for human rights crimes.

“The Human Rights Council spoke with one voice today by condemning North Korea’s horrific rights abuses and supporting efforts to bring leading officials in Pyongyang to account,” said John Fisher, Geneva director. “The overwhelming support for this resolution shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.”

The prosecutorial experts in the OHCHR Seoul office will be able to assess information from researchers. They will be able to identify evidence gaps, map command structures of North Korean institutions, and develop effective options and strategies for prosecuting those responsible for grievous human rights abuses in North Korea, including crimes against humanity.

Tomás Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), underlined in his latest report to the council in February that the “investigation and prosecution of serious crimes are indispensable, as are measures to ensure the right of victims and societies to know the truth about violations, the right of victims to reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence of violations.”

The strengthening of the Seoul office follows recommendations by the group of independent experts on accountability created under a Human Rights Council resolution adopted on March 23, 2016. The UN high commissioner for human rights appointed the panel in September, naming Sara Hossain, a lawyer in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and Sonja Biserko, a Serbian human rights activist who served on the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea, as the experts.

The overwhelming support for this resolution shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.
John Fisher

Geneva Director

The new resolution will also establish an independent central repository to receive, preserve, and consolidate information and evidence related to the human rights situation in North Korea, for use in any future accountability mechanism. It also stressed the importance of following up on the recommendations from the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in North Korea.

The commission found that the gravity, scale, and nature of the human rights violations in North Korea have no parallel in any other country in the contemporary world, and amount to crimes against humanity. Abuses included enslavement, extermination, murder, rape and other sexual crimes, deliberate starvation, and enforced disappearances “pursuant to policies at the highest level of the state.” The UN Security Council has discussed the situation in North Korea as a formal agenda item three years in a row, a recognition that North Korea’s dire human rights conditions constitute a threat to regional peace and security.

“The Human Rights Council demonstrated with its new resolution what can be achieved when member countries stand behind their promises to hold to account recalcitrant, rights-violating governments,” Fisher said. “This not only brings North Koreans one step closer to justice for human rights crimes they have suffered, but should also make North Korean government officials think twice before inflicting more abuse.”

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